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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Phones

iPhone 7 vs. 7 Plus vs. 6S vs. SE: Which iPhone is right for you?

Big, little, or somewhere in between -- we'll help get to the core of what you need.

CNET

For whatever reason, you need a phone now and it's got to be an iPhone. With four good ones to choose from, things can get complicated fast. You have the new models -- the iPhone 7 and bigger iPhone 7 Plus (is the dual camera worth it?) -- or you could save some bucks and buy last year's 6S or 6S Plus (now with more storage!). There's also the smaller iPhone SE (is that one too small?).

So, do what I always do and make a list of pros and cons compared to the other phones you're mulling over. In fact, I'll just go ahead and make one for you, starting with price.

iPhone prices: SE to 7 Plus


Pricing comparisons

iPhone SE iPhone 6S iPhone 6S Plus iPhone 7 iPhone 7 Plus
US 16GB: $399 / 64GB: $449 32GB: $549 / 128GB: $649 32GB: $649 / 128GB: $749 32GB: $649 / 128GB: $749 / 256GB: $849 32GB: $769 / 128GB: $869 / 256GB: $969
UK 16GB: £379 / 64GB: £429 32GB: £499 / 128GB: £599 32GB: £599 / 128GB: £699 32GB: £599 / 128GB: £699 / 256GB: £799 32GB: £719 / 128GB: £819 / 256GB: £919
AU 16GB: AU$679 / 64GB: AU$749 32GB: AU$929 / 128GB: AU$1,079 32GB: AU$1,079 / 128GB: AU$1,229 32GB: AU$1,079 / 128GB: AU$1,229 / 256GB: AU$1,379 32GB: AU$1,269 / 128GB: AU$1,419 / 256GB: AU$1,569

iPhone 7 Plus

This is the king of the iPhones.

Sarah Tew/CNET

As far as iPhones go, the 7 Plus makes you elite. It's the priciest of the bundle, but with it you get that dual-camera system that can take some incredible photos with an artsy bokeh effect (better than the Google Pixel's version). Biggest downside: it can be unwieldy if you're used to a smaller phone.

Major pros:

  • Two cameras are better than one for fancy portrait shots and optical zoom
  • A 5.5-inch screen gives you tons of space to view and tap
  • Water-resistant
  • 256GB option for monster storage space
  • Longer-lasting battery than iPhone 6S Plus

Major cons:

  • Most expensive iPhone
  • Large if you're used to a 5-inch screen or smaller
  • No headphone jack! (You have to use the Lightning port or wireless headphones/speakers)
  • Static home button feels weird at first
  • Jet black color option scratches easily

Is the dual camera worth it?

    Optical zoom is better than digital zoom, and portrait mode works quite well to focus in on your subject. If you'd rather carry a smaller phone, you lose a little in the photography department, but not so much that you'd be embarrassed around your techie friends.
    Now Playing: Watch this: Master the bokeh effect on the iPhone 7 Plus
    2:09

    iPhone 7

    Waterproofing is nice, but we miss the headset jack.

    Sarah Tew/CNET

    This year's 4.7-inch iPhone 7 makes some real gains against the iPhone 6S, especially when it comes to taking photos, charging up and withstanding a watery mess. It's a great phone, and not too big.

    Major pros:

    • Cameras come with optical image stabilization, just like the 7 Plus (and 6S Plus)
    • Better low-light shots than last year's phone
    • Water-resistant
    • Improved processor and battery performance over iPhone 6S
    • 256GB option for monster storage space

    Major cons:

    Don't forget last year's phones

      Remember, the same cash gets you a larger iPhone 6S Plus if that's your jam, or get a 6S with quadruple the iPhone 7's starting storage.

      iPhone 6S/6S Plus

      Last year's phones still feel pretty fresh.

      Josh Miller/CNET

      Last year's phones still have a lot of mileage left, and Apple keeps it easy at 32GB and 128GB models (no more 16GB, hooray!). Note that the larger 6S Plus has optical image stabilization in its camera, while the 6S does not.

      Major pros:

      • Apple shaved down the price
      • More storage! Base models now start at 32GB, not 16GB
      • They still have a headset jack
      • They're still good

      Major cons:

      • Not water-resistant
      • Slightly shorter battery life than new iPhones
      • 6S Plus doesn't have two cameras or fancy new portrait mode
      • Slightly slower processing speeds

      How much do you really lose?

        If you don't have to be at the head of the pack, either iPhone 6S model is still a great buy. A lot of iPhone owners will hang on to theirs for another year, if not longer.

        iPhone SE

        The pint-size SE is adorable, and comparatively cheap.

        Sarah Tew/CNET

        No, you will not plunge back into the Stone Age with an SE, even though it looks like yesteryear's iPhone 5. In fact, it's essentially a repackaged iPhone 6S, it's fast and one of the only "small phones" you can buy. (If you're open to Android, you could also check out the 4.6-inch Xperia X Compact.)

        Major pros:

        • 4-inch screen helps keep the body petite and light for small-phone fans
        • Compatible with iPhone 5/S cases if you're upgrading
        • Has most of iPhone 6S' goodies like Apple Pay, always-on Siri
        • Really affordable
        • Headphone jack
        • About the best battery life of any iPhone

        Major cons:

        • Selfie cam is behind the times
        • No 3D Touch, if you're used to that
        • Not water-resistant
        • 16GB model looks like a steal, but you'll want 64GB of storage

        How long would I hang on to it?

          Its affordable, midrange price makes the SE a terrific stopgap to replace a lost or broken phone for a year while you wait for Apple's big 10th anniversary iPhone next year (more below). Then, sell it off or pass it on to the kids.

          Also consider this

          • We're expecting next year's 10-year anniversary iPhone to be a blow-out, with an all-new design and tons of hardware perks. Keep that in mind as you plan this year's phone budget.
          • Keep an eye out for holiday sales; there may be a great two-for-one on top of the usual trade-in credits.
          • An iPhone upgrade program through Apple or some carriers automatically bags you next year's model.
          • Extended warranty and care programs mean you pay more up front to cover damage to the phone, like a cracked screen.